By Tom Elustondo
I was happy to see Chris Christie handily win the New Jersey gubernatorial race Tuesday night. In my view, Chris Christie provides precisely what the muddled and confused American political scene needs right now: straight talk.
People are beyond disgusted and frustrated with the incompetent do-nothing Congress and are looking for honest and direct leadership. The amount of fatigue that exists from hearing the liberal MSNBC line on one side and the conservative Fox News line on the other is extreme. Both sides talk past one another without actually engaging the issue or the other side. They screech snarky political platitudes that do nothing but pollute the public’s understanding of the issues. In the process they facilitate polarization of the electorate and decrease the potential for common understanding.
Chris Christie has proven time and time again that he is willing to stand by his positions and tell it like he sees it, rejecting the aforementioned political posturing. After Hurricane Sandy devastated New Jersey, Christie established himself as a strong defender of his state’s well-being, lobbying the federal government for billions of dollars in aid and actively participating in the clean-up and rebuilding processes. When Congress rejected a bill that would provide New Jersey with $60 billion in aid, Christie chastised his own party’s leadership stating that “There’s only one group to blame for the continued suffering. The House majority and their speaker, John Boehner.” Furthermore, despite being governor of a Democratic-leaning state, Christie confronted the highly powerful and entrenched New Jersey teachers unions in 2010 upon assuming the governorship. Asking teachers to accept a pay freeze and to begin contributing to 1.5% of their salaries toward health care, Christie vigorously dismissed claims that he was endangering New Jersey’s public schools in direct and stinging speeches. Christie was ultimately successful, displaying the value of toughness and straight talk.
However, straight talk is not enough to be a successful politician. Politics is a much more complicated art than that. An enormous degree of tact and savvy is involved in the process, what some people would call “playing politics.” Yet, as John F. Kennedy touches upon in Profiles in Courage, “playing politics” is inherent to the process of governance. Despite appearing slimy and uncouth, tit-for-tat deals, half-measures, and unsatisfying compromises are necessary and important to accomplish the difficult goal of governing. In a speech in front of supporters at the Jersey Shore last week, Christie touted bipartisanship and compromise as the key to solving not only Republicans’ recent election woes, but also to solving the dysfunction in Washington. He criticized Republicans for seeking 100% “purity” in candidates, saying that it elicits representatives who simply tell the voters what they want to hear. Also taking a shot at the federal level, Christie stated that “That’s why we have the political system we have in Washington now, because we have people who have become convinced that they have to be 100 percenters.” The New Jersey governor’s emphasis on compromise and bipartisanship illustrates his appreciation of the tact involved in political success.
Christie’s strength is that he combines these two crucial traits, straight talk and political tact, but emphasizes straight talk to a greater degree than other politicians. Christie’s landslide reelection in New Jersey, a Democratic state, by a margin of 61% to 38% validates the legitimacy of his strategy. Corroborating Christie’s attitude is the fact that Ken Cucinnelli, a Tea Party Republican “purist,” was defeated in the important Virginia gubernatorial race the same day as Christie’s victory. The path to the Republican Party’s salvation must include straight talk and political tact via compromise and bipartisanship. They should look to Chris Christie for pointers.